Choosing Physical or Chemical Exfoliators

Exfoliation is so utterly satisfying. After just a couple of minutes, you can transform dull skin into one that’s gorgeously glowing and rosy.

Proper, regular exfoliation helps break up the "glue" that holds skin cells together and clogs pores. You can put on all the serums and moisturizers you want, but they won't penetrate and work as efficiently if your skin is covered with a barrier of dead skin cells. On top of that, our skin's natural ability to turn over cells slows down as we age, so exfoliating gives it the “push” it needs to stay radiant.

There’s no question you should exfoliate, so the real question is: should you go with a physical scrub or a chemical agent?

Physical Exfoliants

Physical exfoliants usually consist of small beads or scrubbing agent that manually remove dead skin cells to unclog pores and resurface skin.

They’re good for pretty much all skin types, so long as you don't apply too much pressure with your fingertips. (Pressing too hard can cause redness and irritation.) Many people make the mistake of thinking that the harder they scrub, the better the results. Not true!

An important consideration when you’re using a physical exfoliant: make sure the exfoliating agent doesn’t cause microlacerations in your skin (such as jagged, crushed shells). Look for scrubs that contain perfectly spherical beads or rice powder instead.

Chemical Exfoliants

Chemical exfoliants include those made with acids (such as glycolic acid derived from sugar cane) and enzymes. Today, we’ll focus on enzymes, as they are the most compatible with all skin types, especially sensitive.

Enzyme exfoliants come from fruit like papaya and pineapple. They work by "digesting" the keratin proteins that comprise dead skin cells. As these keratin proteins are broken down, rough skin becomes smoother and more refined. Enzyme exfoliants don't dissolve more than only the dead surface cells, so you don't have to worry about over-exfoliating or causing irritation. You might want to consider using an enzyme exfoliant if you want a less sensitizing and irritating experience.

Using Both Physical and Enzyme Exfoliants

If you have aging skin, you can use an enzyme exfoliant first to break down the keratin, then follow that up with a physical scrub to "lift" all those dead skin cells and make it easier to wash them away.

Ready to up your exfoliation game? Here are 6 we love:


This enzyme exfoliant contains both papaya and pineapple enzymes. It’s ideally suited for all skin types, but especially for acne-prone, oily, dry or damaged skin. It not only unclogs pores and reduces them in size, but also helps diminish the appearance of discoloration and scarring. This product also contains antioxidants like marula, kigelia africana and green rooibos tea to help fend off free radicals and protect skin from sun damage. Rose geranium, tea tree and bergamot oils have been added to help calm and soothe skin and prevent irritation. Finally, micro-algae, proteins, vitamins and volcanic minerals work to reduce fine lines and wrinkles.


Featuring a combination of enzymes, this mask does it all, helping to reduce fine lines, hyperpigmentation, scarring and large pores. It is gentle for all skin types and helps increase oxygen levels to make skin appear more radiant. Turmeric and cat's claw work to combat inflammation and help treat breakouts. This is an all-natural powder formula that boasts raw ingredients that efficiently target trouble areas to rejuvenate and resurface.


This mask/exfoliator combo helps brighten and soften with Moroccan clay grains that smooth away roughness and shrink pores. It also contains honey enzymes to further help remove dead skin cells and reveal brighter, more glowing skin underneath. It is great for all skin types and even helps boost collagen to improve elasticity, giving skin more bounce. This product is hand blended in small batches in Hawaii and comes in a renewable bamboo container!


Made with five organic ingredients, this mask and exfoliant delivers a multitude of benefits to leave you with visibly plumper, brighter skin. Californian organic royal jelly supplies essential B vitamins to increase the strength of collagen fibers while providing lightweight hydration. Meanwhile, organic strawberries provide vitamin C to brighten discoloration, and their natural enzymes gently lift away dead skin. This ultra concentrated mask nourishes, hydrates, exfoliates and firms, making luxury natural skin care simple.


This transformational exfoliator is derived from an ancient Ayurvedic recipe featuring a blend of biodynamic turmeric, kashmiri saffron, persian walnuts, bitter apricot kernels and neem. This super effective face sand lifts away dead skin with its grainy texture, leaving the complexion brighter and smoother, drawing out impurities to address skin congestion all the while promoting circulation to revive dull complexions. The versatile formula can be used as an exfoliator or as a facial mask.

6 Black Chicken Remedies COMPLEXION POLISH

This is a powder-based scrub that includes rice powder, argan shell powder, kaolin clay and gotu kola powder to help refine and polish skin with a gentle buffing action. The powders contain granules that manually slough away dead skin cells to help remove blackheads and tighten pores. This is great for all skin types, and can also be used by men as a pre-shave remedy to help soften skin.